Who knew that regular cycles in your washing machine may not be enough to get clothes clean?
A viral TikTok by user MrsLaurenElms, which showed her soaking towels in a bathtub, helped launch a national obsession with “laundry stripping” during the pandemic. Over the last few months, TikTok’s #laundrystripping tag page has garnered 27 million views and counting.
“One reason that we have seen a rise in this laundry trend is because of the shock factor that it gives people when they realize that the clothes they thought were clean are horrifically dirty,” said Michelle Hansen, an organizing and cleaning expert and owner of Practical Perfection.
Laundry stripping provides physical proof that our regular laundry methods might not be working as well as we thought. “Plus, it’s satisfying to see the murky colored water and see how much cleaner you’ve been able to get your laundry,” Hansen said.
But what, exactly, does laundry stripping do? And is it safe for your fabrics? Here’s a closer look at the latest laundry trend.
What is laundry stripping?
“Laundry stripping is a soaking method designed to deep-clean your laundry, with the intent to remove built-up residue from detergent, hard water, body oils and fabric softener, which you simply cannot do using a washing machine,” explained Dr. Elizabeth Mullans, a dermatologist in Houston, Texas.
Unlike other common laundry products, the cleaning agents used to strip laundry don’t have a waxy build-up that forms over time and causes clothes to become stiff and uncomfortable to wear (laundry scent beads, we’re looking at you).
Laundry stripping can be done in a traditional washing machine, though it requires a top-load washer. Since not everyone has one, using the bathtub is often the most convenient option.
Because of the extra-large capacity of a bathtub, it allows for the laundry powders and hot water to have access to all parts of the laundry, Hansen explained. The extra water and extended soak time allow the laundry mixture to strip away the buildup that regular detergents leave on clothes.
Basic Laundry Stripping Recipe And Instructions
Start by filling your tub with the hottest water possible. You can also use a large bucket or utility sink ― anything with enough space to fully submerge the fabrics
Next, add your stripping mixture:
- ¼ cup Borax
- ¼ cup washing soda (sodium carbonate)
- ½ cup laundry detergent of your choice
The Borax and washing soda are laundry boosters, which remove hard water minerals in fabrics. Laundry detergent contains surfactants and enzymes to break down and remove other build-up on fabrics. The TikTok that kicked off this trend used a mixture of Borax, Arm & Hammer super washing soda and Tide powder laundry detergent.
After about four hours of soak time, squeeze out excess water as much as possible. Then run the laundry through a wash cycle in your washing machine without any detergent.
How To Maximize Strip Washing
Hansen recommended starting your laundry stripping with a load of clean clothes. “That way you’ll really be able to tell what a difference laundry stripping makes, even on clothes that you thought were clean,” she said.
Mullans noted that if you have sensitive skin, it’s a good idea to use a detergent designed for that. She added that laundry stripping is not always ideal for clothing as it can cause dyes to run. Also be careful with the type of items you decide to strip, such as comforters or pillows, as a high pH will strip the oils and could even cause the fabric to crack.
Since using hot water is essential to the process, it’s best to avoid stripping any colors other than white. Save the stripping process for your white towels, sheets, undergarments and clothing. It should also be done to clothes just a few times a year to avoid damage.
Also, because there are several laundry cleaners and a large amount of water involved, it’s important to keep any little ones or pets away from the tub area until you’re done to avoid accidents.
Is It Worth The Trouble?
Laundry stripping requires a lot of water, time and can be harsh on fabrics. So should you bother?
“While this laundry stripping trend seems to have gained popularity with many consumers, our research and laundry expertise suggests that there are more effective methods to remove build-up on fabrics,” said Jennifer Ahoni, Tide senior scientist. That’s because using washing or baking soda in a stripping process can not only cause some of the issues outlined above, but even form new soap scum residues on fabrics.
“Additionally, we have learned that low wash pH is an effective method for soap scum removal, and washing soda raises wash pH,” she added. “Washing soda can also deactivate some detergent components.”
Often, residues consist of body soils and fatty acid salts (“soap scum”), which a high-quality detergent and the warmest water possible can mostly remove, Ahoni said. “For additional removal of insoluble soap scum, I would recommend using a rinse treatment that is acidic, like 9 Elements Purifying Softener.”
It also helps to avoid overcrowding your washer or using more than the recommended amount of detergent, both of which make it tougher to effectively remove buildup.
Ahoni said that if you do give laundry stripping a shot, don’t do it frequently, as it can prematurely age and damage clothes. The hot water temperature required can be damaging to fabrics, as well as cause dye loss (which, by the way, is likely what contributes to the murky tub water). “I would avoid doing laundry stripping on delicate garments and fabrics, or those that you are worried about fading,” she said.
Laundry stripping is probably not the most necessary part of your cleaning ritual. And it could even do more harm than good. If anything, laundry stripping satisfies that deep-down desire to physically see all the grossness leaving your laundry ― which may be exactly what you need amid a global health crisis.